After its disastrous snowy first go-round, the MTA held its second public hearings yesterday in Manhattan and the Bronx regarding its upcoming fare hikes—and if you enjoy spending three hours listening to New Yorkers rail against a row of white men who aren't allowed to do anything but sit there and listen, you would have loved it. As for opinions on the four specific fare hike proposals the MTA is choosing between, only one person in Manhattan actually expressed one (he liked option 1a). But still, it seems pretty clear that the average New Yorker who can get to one of these hearings is not in favor of another fare hike.

There is something marvelously democratic about the MTA's hearings: MTA officials line up at a table and sit silently for hours on end as New Yorker after New Yorker from all walks of life—straphangers and drivers, transit workers and lawyers, politicians and laymen, rich and poor—systematically tell them what is what in three minute chunks. In the end, none of it probably means anything—we're getting a fare hike people—but the opportunity to listen to involved New Yorkers speak their minds sure is cathartic. Here's what we took away from last night's hearing (which, thank God, will eventually be put up online so you can enjoy it too—the second person to speak sang the best anti-fare hike song):

  • Pretty much everyone, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilwoman Gale Brewer, had high praise for the MTA's amazing rebound after Hurricane Sandy.
  • But more than one transit worker came up to point out that the MTA wasn't responsible. "Sandy cleanup wasn't the MTA, it was the transit workers," a worker explained. "These guys up here probably couldn't push a broom."
  • There were a number of people who were upset that the MTA representatives on hand were an "undemocratic" "row of old white men." One woman kindly asked where the single mothers were represented.
  • How the potential fare hikes will hurt the poor was a major theme of the hearings ("sham public hearings," according to one gentleman). A former bus boy talked about how his unlimited MetroCard cost him more than 10 percent of his income ("how is that public?"). "A lot of riders are black or Latino," a man, who later threatened further acts of God against the MTA if the hike happened, pointed out, "We don't have a white salary!"

    And even those with "white salaries" were concerned. A woman quite proud of her MBA who had actually gotten a raise recently asked, "if someone like me can't afford these rate increases what is going to happen to the people who aren't as well off as I am?"
  • The answer to that woman's question, according to many, is that they will jump turnstiles. An eloquent station agent talked of seeing men in business suits at Chambers Street "going through the gates" and warned that fare beating was going to get worse.
  • Of course, according to some, the fare beaters are already the problem. The only man to speak out in favor of the fare hike (while vehemently opposing a toll hike) interestingly claimed that if the MTA just cracked down on farebeaters "there probably wouldn't even a need for a fare hike."

Even without a Nor'Easter there really weren't that many people in the audience last night (Garth Johnston / Gothamist).

  • A number of straphangers and transit workers questioned the need for many of the MTA's beautification projects in "hip areas" (like the "disco lights" at the new Bleecker Street/Broadway-Lafayette transfer) when "there ain't no disco lights in Brownsville." Not to mention those weird giant iPads the MTA is so proud of. One rider begged the MTA to ditch those and just hire more station agents again (to loud applause from the union members in the audience).
  • Speaking of union members, a number of them spoke (including a gentleman from the Revolutionary Transit Worker calling on the "reactionary segments of the capitalist class") and a well-spoken man who wondered why the MTA bigwigs offices are still above ground and not in the thousands of square feet of usable space underground. "Be like me and dodge rats all day!" he gleefully told the hearing, to applause.
  • Shout out for the most random comment of the evening probably goes to the gentleman who talked about "Sodom on the Hudson," though he wasn't referring to what you think he was talking about. No, his point was that "Sodom made kindness to strangers a capital offense" and fretted that New York is quickly making it harder and harder to perform acts of kindness (like picking up strangers on the highway).
  • The other major theme of the evening was that the MTA needed to "fight for fairness, not fares" and demand better funding from Upstate. "The city that doesn't sleep is telling Albany to wake up," one rider explained. We're sure that Albany, which does so love to dip into the MTA's coffers, is going to get right one it.
  • Finally, beyond complaining about the general idea of yet another fare hike—a number of people, including Scott Stringer, pointed out that between 1904 and 1966 the fare was only raised twice and now it is going up at nearly twice the rate of inflation—there was concern about the upcoming $1 MetroCard replacement fee. While environmentalists applauded the idea, those concerned about the subway's poorer riders were less thrilled, pointing out that many are too poor to even buy discounted unlimited cards and that this would just be another tax on them.

All of which is to say, you guys missed a fun time with the MTA last night! Wish you were there? Don't worry, the Staten Island (11/24), Queens (11/15), Westchester (11/15) and Orange County (today) hearings are still coming up if you want your voice to be heard—and promptly forgotten.